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Keep to the Right

As a boy I used to look curiously at the notices projecting from the wayside lamp-posts—"Please keep to the right," and for a time was puzzled as to who or what they referred to "Please keep to the right" I would read over and over again, and would think what a peculiar notice. "Keep to the right," who keep to the right, and why? I would query perplexingly, and what for? Then I thought to ask someone, who informed me that the notice conveyed the instruction so that no unpleasantness might occur to pedestrians going in opposite directions by colliding one with the other. For the same wise purpose, I was further told, this "rule of the road” applied also to all kinds of vehicular traffic. About the time I had my curiosity satisfied as to the import of the words, "Keep to the right," I had ocular demonstration of the force of this rule, or rather the lack of it. In rounding a corner a pony-chaise and a cyclist came into violent collision, and a lengthy altercation ensued as to which had transgressed the rule of the road.

Since I have grown older, and observed more closely, I have found that most of our sufferings, misfortunes, and sorrows are caused by violating this simple rule of life, this maxim, "keep to the right.” This proverb is written in large letters so that all may read and understand. From time immemorial wise and good men have repeated it times without number, and continued repetition has intensified its meaning beyond all uncertainty or doubt, and our own observation and experience bears out their testimony.

We know the simple injunction “keep to the right” is the panacea for most of the difficulties and ills of life, and yet how often we disregard this precept. We fail to "keep to the right," we pay no attention to this rule of life, and trouble and perplexity follows. Instead of realizing our folly in our deviation, we frequently fail to comprehend that we have turned aside, and we lay the blame upon the shoulders of those with whom we have come in contact—enemies we sometimes term them—or we condemn our environment or circumstances, or some subtle temptation which has waylaid us.

Even when we do actually realize we have transgressed this maxim, we are only too apt to shift the onus upon our peculiar situation in life, the difficulty of the way, the many hindrances and obstacles which beset our path, and are prone to drag in any extenuating circumstance in order to cover up our delinquency. That we have of our own volition ignored the injunction we are scarcely prepared to admit; at any rate, not in the early stages of our wandering, and consequently we are disposed to quarrel with everything and everyone but the real offender—ourselves. We acknowledge we know the rule of the road; we cannot say otherwise; the notice is so plain and simple, "keep to the right," and we also concede that when we have obeyed the instructions our way has been peaceful and tranquil, and where we have deviated there from suffering and confusion has followed, yet ever and anon we turn aside at some passing phantasmagoria or illusion. Like the loitering boy sent on an errand, we forget our message and our goal in the trifling excitements of the moment. We walk the easy way, the way of least resistance, and any vain attraction by the roadside distracts our attention from the object of our journey. First one and another diversion captivates our imagination, and arrests our progress; we forget the injunction, “keep to the right," and almost before we are aware of it our feet have swerved out of path whose limits are circumscribed. One deviation makes the second easy, and soon the distractions around us, added to our own mental and moral confusion, render the precept well-nigh unintelligible. “Keep to the right"; "is not this the right?” we ask, with some uncertainty, however. Many others, in whose footsteps we tread, are going the same way, surely they are not mistaken. Besides, the road is much smoother, progress is more rapid, the company is more gaysome and jolly, and life appears full of enjoyment and happiness. Who knows but after all this may be the right way; the men who originally caused the notice to be so conspicuously displayed, and others who have supported their work may have erred of blundered; it is just possible. Thus with such sophistries as these we try to quiet our conscience, and so blur and darken our vision until we are almost unable to distinguish the right path.

Then one day, we come into conflict with something or someone, a calamity befalls us, trouble and sorrow and affliction cross our path, and the scales fall from our eyes, and we behold with a vision of intensified clearness. Conscience, so long narcotized into a state of anesthesia, now becomes vivified with increased acuteness, and we see things as they are denuded of all illusion and appearance. No wonder our progress was so rapid, for our course was downhill, and what we imagined to be happiness was but sensual pleasure. Our understanding was warped by love of self, and the light of reason was darkened by personal indulgence. Now at last plausibility has given place to reality, falsity to truth, and the way resumes its proper perspective, and henceforth we determine we will “keep to the right."

Girding ourselves anew, we continue our journey. But now the road is uphill, and obstacles innumerable beset our path. Companionships have been formed which we find difficult to break with; habits long continued have become part of ourselves, and express themselves almost automatically; prejudices possess our judgment, and will not be dislodged; and our very feet, through lack of strenuous exercise, are weighted with a deadly inertia. Thus we press forward, loaded with these evils and misfortunes produced by ourselves, which hamper and hinder us at every step. Stumbling and rising again and again, faltering and hesitating in our weakness, jostled by the onlookers, and bearing the marks of the struggle upon our person, travel-stained and weary, yet we will not yield.

Gradually and almost imperceptibly the ascent becomes less precipitous, the road widens out, the crowd on either side cease their importunities, and our weariness disappears. Shading our eyes with our hands we look along the vista, and right on in front we see pilgrims sturdy and strong, marching along with hearts and voices attuned to the music of the Heavens. Straining our ears we catch the blissful chords borne on a passing breeze, our hearts vibrate in unison, and we take up the refrain full of gratitude and joy. For now our wanderings are over, our feet “keep to the right," which is the pathway of truth, righteousness and peace.

Be cheerful; wipe thine eyes;
Some falls are means the happier to arise.
When thou hast panted up the hill
Of Duty with reluctant will,
Be thankful, even though tired and faint.
Foe is friend and friend is foe,
As our actions make them so.
—Edwin Arnold


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Thomas W. Allen

  • Brother of author James Allen
  • Not much else is known about him. If you have information about this author to share, please contact me.

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